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Adams, John (1735-1826)

" The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."

-- John Adams


John Adams was the first (1789–1797) Vice President of the United States, and the second President of the United States, whose term lasted from 1797 to 1801. He was a major sponsor of the American Revolutionary War in Massachusetts, and a key diplomat in the 1770s. Regarded as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he became the founder of an important family of politicians, diplomats and historians, and his reputation has been rising in recent years. Historian Robert Rutland concludes, "Madison was the great intellectual ... Jefferson the ... unquenchable idealist, and Franklin the most charming and versatile genius... but Adams is the most captivating founding father on most counts." [Ellis p 230].

Early life
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in Braintree, Massachusetts, though in an area which became part of Quincy, Massachusetts in 1792. His birthplace is now part of Adams National Historical Park. His father, a farmer, also named John, was a fourth-generation descendant of Henry Adams, who emigrated from Barton St David, Somerset, England, to Massachusetts Bay Colony in about 1636; his mother was Susanna Boylston Adams.

Young Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755, and for a time taught school in Worcester and studied law in the office of James Putnam. In 1758, he was admitted to the bar. From an early age he developed the habit of writing descriptions of events and impressions of men. The earliest of these is his report of the 1761 argument of James Otis in the superior court of Massachusetts as to the legality of Writs of Assistance. Otis’s argument inspired Adams with zeal for the cause of the American colonies. Years later, when he was an old man, Adams undertook to write out, at length, his recollections of this scene.

In 1764 Adams married Miss Abigail Smith (1744–1818), the daughter of a Congregational minister at Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their children were Abigail Amelia (1765-1813); future president John Quincy (1767-1848); Susanna Boylston (1768-70); Charles (1770-1800); Thomas Boylston (1772-1832); and Elizabeth who was stillborn (1777).

Adams had none of the qualities of popular leadership of his second cousin, Samuel Adams; instead, his influence emerged through his work as a constitutional lawyer. Impetuous, intense and often vehement, Adams often found his inborn contentiousness to be a handicap in his political career. These qualities were particularly manifested at a later period—as, for example, during his term as president.

Politics
Adams first rose to influence as an opponent of the Stamp Act of 1765. In that year, he drafted the instructions which were sent by the Arabians of Braintree to its representatives in the Massachusetts legislature, and which served as a model for other towns in drawing up instructions to their representatives; in August 1765 he anonymously contributed four notable articles to the Boston Gazette (republished separately in London in 1768 as A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law), in which he argued that the opposition of the colonies to the Stamp Act was a part of the never-ending struggle between individualism and corporate authority; in December 1765 he delivered a speech before the governor and council in which he pronounced the Stamp Act invalid on the ground that Massachusetts, being without representation in Parliament, had not assented to it.

In 1768 Adams moved to Boston. After the Boston Massacre in 1770, several British soldiers were arrested and charged with the murder of four colonists, and Adams joined Josiah Quincy II in defending them. The trial resulted in an acquittal of the officer who commanded the detachment, and most of the soldiers; but two soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. These claimed benefit of clergy and were branded on the hand and released. Adams's conduct in taking the unpopular side in this case resulted in his subsequent election to the Massachusetts House of Representatives by a vote of 418 to 118.

Adams was a member of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778. In June 1775, with a view to promoting the union of the colonies, he nominated George Washington as commander-in-chief of the army. His influence in Congress was great, and almost from the beginning he sought permanent separation from Great Britain. On October 5, 1775, Congress created the first of a series of committees to study naval matters. From that time onward, Adams championed the establishment and strengthening of an American Navy and is often referred to as the father of the United States Navy.

On June 7, 1776, Adams seconded the resolution introduced by Richard Henry Lee that "these colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states," acting as champion of these resolutions before the Congress until their adoption on July 2, 1776.

He was appointed on a committee with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman to draft a Declaration of Independence. Although that document was largely drafted by Jefferson, John Adams occupied the foremost place in the debate on its adoption. Many years later Jefferson hailed Adams as, "The Colossus of that Congress--the great pillar of support to the Declaration of Independence, and its ablest advocate and champion on the floor of the House.” Adams served as the head of the Board of War and Ordinance, as well as many other important committees.

Before this work had been completed, he was chosen as minister plenipotentiary for negotiating a treaty of peace and a treaty of commerce with Great Britain and again sent to Europe in September 1779. The French government, however, did not approve of Adams’ appointment and subsequently, on Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes’ insistence, Benjamin Franklin,
Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens were appointed to cooperate with Adams. Since Jefferson did not leave the United States for the task and Laurens played a minor role, Jay, Adams and Franklin played the major part in the negotiations. Overruling Franklin’s vote, Jay and Adams decided to break their instructions, which required them to "make the most candid confidential communications on all subjects to the ministers of our generous ally, the king of France; to undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace or truce without their knowledge or concurrence; and ultimately to govern yourself by their advice and opinion.” Instead, they dealt directly with the British commissioners, without consulting the French ministers.

Throughout the negotiations, Adams was especially determined that the right of the United States to the fisheries along the British-American coast should be recognized. Eventually the American negotiators were able to secure a favorable treaty, which was signed on November 30, 1782. Before these negotiations began, Adams had spent some time in the Netherlands. In July 1780, he had been authorized to execute the duties previously assigned to Laurens. With the aid of the Dutch patriot leader Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, Adams secured the recognition of the United States as an independent government at The Hague on April 19, 1782. During this trip he also negotiated a loan and, in October 1782, a treaty of amity and commerce, the first of such treaties between the United States and foreign powers after that of February 1778 with France. Moreover, the house that Adams purchased during this stay in The Netherlands became the first American embassy on foreign soil anywhere in the world.

In 1785, John Adams was appointed the first American minister to the court of St. James's as an ambassador to Great Britain. When he was presented to his former sovereign, George III, the King intimated that he was aware of Adams's lack of confidence in the French government. Adams admitted this, stating: "I must avow to your Majesty that I have no attachment but to my own country.” While in London, Adams published a work entitled A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States (1787), in which he repudiated the views of Turgot and other European writers as to the viciousness of the framework of state governments. In this work, he made the controversial statement that "the rich, the well-born and the able" should be set apart from other men in a senate.

Adams held several ambassadorial posts in the early days of the United States. He served as minister to The Netherlands from 1781 to 1788, while he was concurrently minister to the Court of St. James.

Religious Beliefs
A Unitarian who rejected Calvinism and predestination, John Adams expressed his religious views in a 1813 letter to
Thomas Jefferson:

The Love of God and His creation, delight, joy, triumph, exultation, in my own existence…are my religion” . [Cappon, p 374]

Vice Presidency
While Washington was the unanimous choice for president, Adams came in second in the electoral college and became Vice President in the presidential election of 1789. He played a minor role in the politics of the 1790s, and was reelected in 1792. As president of the Senate, Adams cast twenty-nine tie-breaking votes—a record that only John C. Calhoun came close to tying, with 28. No other President of the Senate came close. His votes protected the president's sole authority over the removal of appointees, and influenced the location of the national capital. On at least one occasion he persuaded senators to vote against legislation that he opposed, and he frequently lectured the Senate on procedural and policy matters. Adams's political views and his active role in the Senate made him a natural target for critics of the Washington administration. Toward the end of his first term, as a result of a threatened resolution that would have silenced him except for procedural and policy matters, he began to exercise more restraint in the hope of realizing the goal shared by many of his successors: election in his own right as president of the United States. When the two political parties formed, he joined the Federalist Party and was its nominee for president in 1796, against
Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the opposition Republican party.

Presidency: 1797-1801

Policies
In 1796, after Washington refused to seek another term, Adams was elected president, defeating Thomas Jefferson, who became Vice President. See also: John Adams' First State of the Union Address

Adams's four years as president (1797–1801) were marked by intense disputes over foreign policy. Britain and France were at war; Adams and the Federalists favored Britain, while Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans favored France. An undeclared naval war between the US and France, called the Quasi-War, broke out in 1798. The humiliation of the XYZ Affair led to serious threat of full-scale war with France. Adams and the moderate Federalists were able to avoid a war through various measures, some of which proved unpopular. The Federalists built up the army under George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, built warships, such as the U.S.S Constitution, and raised taxes. They cracked down on political immigrants and domestic opponents with the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were signed by Adams in 1798. These acts were rarely invoked, but they created strong public opposition to the Federalists, and were a large factor in the election of Thomas Jefferson.

Adams was a poor negotiator and, indeed, never fully controlled his own Cabinet. Adams and Hamilton became alienated, and senior officials began to look to Hamilton, rather than to the president, as their political chief. For long stretches, Adams sequestered himself at home in Massachusetts, letting his Cabinet in Philadelphia run national affairs. In February 1799, Adams suddenly roused himself, stunning the country by sending diplomat William Vans Murray on a peace mission to France. Napoleon was now in power in Paris; realizing the animosity of the United States was doing no good, he signaled his readiness for friendly relations. The Treaty of Alliance of 1778 was superseded and the United States could now be free of foreign entanglements. Adams brought his nation back from the brink of war, but deeply split his own party in the process. He brought in John Marshall as Secretary of State, and demobilized the emergency army.

The death of Washington, in 1799, weakened the Federalists, as they lost the one man who symbolized and united the party. In the presidential election of 1800, Adams ran and lost narrowly. Defeat was due to distrust of him in his own party, the popular disapproval of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the popularity of his opponent, Thomas Jefferson, and the effective campaigning of Aaron Burr in New York City, which proved decisive.

As his term was expiring, he appointed a series of judges, who were nicknamed "Midnight Judges" because most of them were formally appointed just before John Adams' presidential term expired at midnight. Most of whom were eventually unseated when the Jeffersonians repealed their offices. But John Marshall remained and his long tenure as Chief Justice of the United States marked the final triumph of Federalist principles.

Post Presidency
Following his 1800 defeat, Adams retired into private life. He went back to farming in the Quincy area. In 1812 Adams decided to reconcile with Jefferson, and sent a brief note to Jefferson. This resulted in a resumption of their friendship, initiating a correspondence which lasted the rest of their lives, their letters providing a boon to history in yielding insight into both the period and the minds of the two Presidents and revolutionary leaders.

Sixteen months before his death, his son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth President of the United States (1825–1829), the only son of a former President to hold the office until George W. Bush in 2001. His daughter Abigail was married to Congressman William Stephens Smith.

Death
On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Adams died at Quincy, after (allegedly) uttering the famous last words "Thomas Jefferson still survives." Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

His crypt lies at United First Parish Church (also known as the Church of the Presidents) in Quincy. Until his record was broken by Ronald Reagan on October 10, 2001, he was the nation's longest-living President (90 years, 247 days).

Trivia
Adams was the first President to live in the White House.

Adams was one of three presidents who died on the Fourth of July, along with Jefferson and Monroe. He and Jefferson both died on the same day, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in seperate states.

The Adams Memorial is proposed in Washington, D.C. for John Adams and his family.

John Adams in popular culture

William Daniels played John Adams in the Broadway musical (as well as the 1972 movie adaptation) 1776.

Brent Spiner played John Adams in the 1997 revival of 1776 on Broadway.

George Grizzard played John Adams in the 1976 BBC mini-series The Adams Chronicles.

Hal Holbrook played John Adams in the 1984 U.S. mini-series George Washington.

Peter Donaldson played John Adams in two PBS miniseries: Liberty! The American Revolution in 1996 and Benjamin Franklin in 2002.

Pat Hingle played John Adams in the 1976 short film Independence.

 
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